- Bees will sting you ( A lOT) if you’ve already been stung. I love my backyard beehive and they love me (mostly). Like most relationships there are rules. And like most relationships those rules are left to be divined after many trials and some errors. When I neglect a bee rule like don’t squish any worker bees with the hive top cover (so picky!), I am quickly and unceremoniously stung as a register of their discontent. Feeling duly alerted I was flummoxed to learn that though each honey bee can sting only once, they operate as a larger whole organism (which is fabulously cool!) and subsequent bees will follow the chemical trail of an implanted stinger to remind you just how badly you fudged up. This is why it’s best to use a credit card to scrape stingers out of skin instead of wiping them away and smearing that signal further. It’s also why it’s best to keep chickens. They never sting. They do however poop a lot.
- Chickens poop a lot. See above. Their urine smells strongly of ammonia and their poop can be a foul-smelling, runny, dirty, mess that can get communicated to the eggs in the nesting box increasing the potential for salmonella transmission. Best to keep the coop tidy. For this reason it is good to have boys (or an amazing group of girl interns as I do!) to help clean it out – if you can get them off the couch and into the yard and then get them to see the job through to the end and not just scoop some poop, trailing much of it onto the floor, and leaving the droppings in a sordid pile nearby with the rake laying down next to it.
- Kids are a poor ROI on a backyard farm. See above. Not only do they poop ( A LOT!) and rarely flush (why God? Why?), but they make great messes in the farm house and excel at button-pushing in the teenage years especially. I will grant you that they can be quite cute, never bite, and sometimes very cuddly, but they are really energy inefficient. It takes vast quantities of supplements, food stuffs, and gear to keep them and they provide nothing in the way of products. Consider them ornamental and somewhat toxic. Best to “look at and leave be” which is why I like goats.
- Goats munch on everything…the good, the bad, the inedible, the stationary, the mobile, and especially, the prized. They burp too. But in kind of a cute way that some cultures do to show the efficacy and pleasure the digestion of their meal is giving them. Goats need fencing…at least 4 feet high and a constant source of forage like hay, thickets or grass – but not so much the grass you want them to mow with their mouths. No, for some reason this grass does not appeal and great tall stalks of your Kentucky bluegrass and perennial rye will spring up around them as they focus on your $300 ornamental Spruce.
But still I recommend it all. I have but an acre-and-a-smidge of property and it is teeming with life; and on most days barely controlled chaos. Aggressive roosters mating with tree stumps, goat break-outs that end up with them running only so far as the other side of the fence, errant bees in trousers brought unwittingly into the bedroom all provide, for me, the color and quality that make my life complete.
So, No.. when you ask me if it’s hard, or wonder how I do it all? For me it’s a blessing of messy beauty that allows me to shed what is very hard for me to let go of otherwise: Living a monochromatic life under the precarious illusion of having control. Now that shit is hard!
Start a farm right in your backyard. I double dog dare you. Email for backyard farm support plans (and referrals to therapists).